After the crazy traffic of the city, the skyscrapers, construction noise, shopping centers, suqs, shouting vendors, honking horns and boat motors, the stillness of the desert covered us like a calming blanket. The incredibly quiet expanse with its hues of brown seemed less real than the electricity of the all man-made Dubai.
Drivers, dressed in long white candoras and white gutrahs, chauffeured groups of tourists and ex-pats in four wheel drive vehicles into the sunset. We paused and wondered about the daytime heat in the desert. After four, it had cooled off comfortably and a breeze was refreshing. The soft sand felt delicious between the toes. We stopped at several camel farms and admired the majestic animals. Camels are bread for steaks, stew, briefcases, handbags, and jackets, not some exalting purpose like taking people through the desert or racing. They were always chewing and moving their jaws in circular motion, and close-up their teeth were huge and their eyelashes incredibly long. Camels can run fast, but these farm animals moved slowly, their large bellies swaying from side to side.
The calm ride didn’t prepare us for the "bashing." I was one of six passengers in one car. The vehicle stopped somewhere off the road in the sand, and while we drank water, the drivers let some air out of the tires. "Better in the dunes," went the explanation. The "all aboard," was the beginning of the wildest ride I have ever taken. The dunes we entered weren’t nice and easy slopes. These ravines, often twenty-five feet or deeper angled at forty-five degrees. We raced up and slid down head first, sideways, backwards, waiting just long enough for the vehicle in front to get out of the way. We squealed, laughed, caught our breath, occasionally in flight, often at the brink of tipping, but always regaining balance. "I’m a daredevil," explained our driver, "I have never had an accident." He was laughing, the joy of giving us a wild experience sparkling in his eyes. I have no idea how long the dune bashing lasted, the exhilaration made me forget time and space. Sitting in the front next to the driver, I tried to film. The result was a movie as wild as the ride itself.
Our destination was a Bedouin campsite located in a fairly deep depression. Camels with muzzles kneeled down to receive riders for a short walk. From there we meandered down a slope to enter the camp through a great gate that resembled the ranch entrances of the Old West. With much time on our hands, we admired the eagle perched on the bedouin’s wrist, and explored the interlocking huts and tents containing sales stalls, kitchens, henna tattoo stall, and an Arabic dress shop.
We donned Arabic garb for photo shoots. The women looked smashing in their long black abaias. It was amazing how comfortable and cool they felt. The headscarf and veil were one piece of material with a slit through the middle and a band on either side. Covering nose and eyes it is tied in the back of the head. Half is drawn up and back to cover the hair, the other half pulled down just below the eyes. Men shrouded themselves in long, white candoras and tried a variety of gutrahs on their heads. The transformation to a different culture took seconds.
In the center of the compound, round tables and large cushions encircled a carpeted stage. Comfortably seated, we were served a menu of barbequed lamb and chicken with vegetables, stew, several rice dishes, a number of salads, Arabic breads, and non-alcoholic as well as alcoholic beverages. We wondered if the stew contained camel, but no one would tell us. All of the food tasted surprisingly good for a tour destination.
I could have lived without the interactive belly-dancing performance. The dancer moved gracefully to the discordant tunes of the local music, but when she pulled people from the audience to follow her gyrations, the exotic ambience was gone.
Millions of stars twinkled in the night sky. "Nowhere can you see as many stars as in the desert," sighed our driver on the way back.